GREENBELT, Md. – President Clinton convened a leadership conference at Eleanor Roosevelt High School Thursday, bringing students, grassroots organizers and policy makers together to help shape a strategy against drugs and youth crime.
“If you are imprisoned from within by drugs, or from without by being afraid to walk the streets, then this is not a free country and you are not a free person,” Clinton told a packed gymnasium.
He referred several times during the day to his brother Roger’s recurring drug habit, to show his familiarity with the problem.
It was Clinton’s second trip to the school, said principal Gerald Boarman. Then-governor Clinton came to Eleanor Roosevelt more than five years ago for an education symposium and wound up having an impromptu hour-and-a-half chat with Boarman and several students.
Gov. Parris Glendening, Reps. Al Wynn, D-Largo, and Steny Hoyer, D-Mitchellville, and Prince George’s County Executive Wayne Curry welcomed the president and several high-ranking members of the administration. Glendening described Roosevelt as one of the best schools in the nation. Others called it a model of student-body diversity.
The day-long conference was linked by satellite to more than 23 schools across the country.
In closed-door sessions, Attorney General Janet Reno, Housing and Human Services Secretary Donna Shalala, Housing and Human Development Secretary Henry Cisneros and other administration officials met with students, community activists, and others to listen to ways in which the federal government can better cope with problems facing America’s young people.
A report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics released at the conference shows that the number of murders committed by 14- to 17-year-olds has increased by 172 percent since 1985.
In 1994, the report states, black males between the ages of 14 and 24 were the victims of 17 percent of all homicides and perpetrators about 30 percent of the time. They represented about 1 percent of the population.
White males in that age group were victims 10 percent of the time and perpetrators 18 percent of the time. They represented 6.3 percent of the population, the report says.
The murder rate for 14- to 17-year-olds jumped 22 percent between 1990 and 1994. Yet the overall murder rate declined by 4 percent, the report says.
It concludes that because there are some 39 million children under 10 – more than there have been in decades – there will be an even greater surge of youth violence in the near future.
“We need to tell young people we’re here for you, we’re behind you, but we have to let them know there are swift, certain and sure sanctions that fit the crime,” Reno said.
Recent surveys cited by the president suggest that young people are less fearful of drug use than in years past.
One of the main themes of the conference was the link between drug use and violence.
“There isn’t a child in this room that doesn’t know illegal drugs and violence are joined at the hip,” said the chairman of the Partnership for a Drug-Free America, James Burke.
Burke called for a major public relations campaign to change attitudes about drugs, as there has been for cigarettes.
Earlier in the day, Vice President Al Gore pushed a similar approach toward taking the glamour out of violence.
“We all know real violence doesn’t come with a cool soundtrack. It comes with screaming and tears,” he said.
The Rev. Jesse Jackson, founder of the National Rainbow Coalition, said the scourge of drugs can be beaten, but only when “young America comes alive and chooses hope over dope and life over death.”
Uche Aninye, a freshman from Mitchellville, said he was impressed by the conference.
“It made a big impact,” said the 15-year-old, who added that violence is not a big problem at the school.
“We all learned something, about drugs and violence, and about the president. His own brother .. that’s something personal, so it wasn’t just somebody rambling on up there.”
Other students said Clinton’s visit was part substance, part politics.
“Most think it’s both,” said Jeremy Monaldo, 15, a freshman.
“It’ll boost his campaign, but I’m sure he cares,” said Jermoni Dowd, a 15-year-old sophomore. Capital News Service reporter T.M. Hartmann contributed to this report. -30-